Reality Winner who worked for Pluribus International at their offices in Georgia was arrested this week under the Espionage Act for sending a classified document to Intercept, a publication first created in 2014 as a platform to report on documents released by Edward Snowden. Ms. Winner faces one count of “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information.” An Air Force veteran who served as a Cryptologic Language Analyst, as a contractor she had top secret clearance.
About 1.3 million people in the U.S. hold top secret clearance. Of those, about 420K are private contractors. About 5 million people hold some kind of security clearance, including both government and contractors.
Intercept provided a copy of the NSA report to that agency, asking for comment/verification. The copy allowed the NSA to quickly identify Ms. Winner as the source. She was arrested mere hours after publication. Julian Assange has come down hard on Intercept, criticizing their handling of the information. Indeed, WikiLeaks is offering a $10,000 reward for information “leading to the public exposure & termination” of the reporter. Assange was quoted as saying that “if the FBI affidavit is accurate the reporter concerned must be named, shamed and fired by whomever they work for to maintain industry standards,” Assange is concerned that reporters who burn sources damage trust and create a chill effect.
Clearly, it appears that Ms. Winner broke the law. But it’s a bit ironic that over the last few months many high ranking, well placed experts with credible backgrounds have stated in open forums that the Russians were or attempted to be tamper in U.S. elections. It is not as if the world didn’t already know that Russian hackers attempted to infiltrate. The Russians have probably been trying and maybe succeeding to do so for a long time, now. The leak is hardly breaking news.
The chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Jason Chaffetz stated that “there’s a right way and wrong way to do this. If you feel compelled to share information that’s classified because you’re concerned about the implications, there are legal ways in which you can have whistleblower protection and go to committee for instance, on oversight, and protect your legal rights and not get yourself in trouble… a contractor, a federal employee cannot just take it upon themselves to bypass the classification system.”
It would be interesting to have seen how things would have played out were Ms. Winner to have taken that route.
Ms. Winner was quoted as having told her mom on the phone after her arrest that she was afraid that “they were going to make her disappear.” Maybe she imagines herself the protagonist of a John Le Carré novel. Given her Twitter and Facebook accounts, it’s easy to imagine her motivations were fueled by a combination of ego and ideology.
In response to this affair, a few experts have stated that far too much data is secret. That well may be true and perhaps we need to push for more transparent mechanisms for declassification. Thomas Jefferson said that when the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.